Name calling and incivility

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Name calling and incivility

Postby theMoMA » Tue Oct 08, 2013 5:24 pm

Perhaps the foremost long-simmering issue that seems to hover just below the surface is name calling and lack of civility.

I believe that this board must be a place where people can almost always say what they want to say how they want to say it. That's why we have an open discussion policy. It's also why we have a policy about tone policing: the idea is to mandate discussion on the merits of arguments without the threat of collateral attack (i.e. we are disallowing argument along the lines of "I'm not going to respond to what you said because I don't like the way you said it").

This is also why we have aggressively moderated, and will continue to aggressively moderate, posts devoid of meritorious argument that contain only invective. The policy isn't meant to protect incivility, but to avoid collateral civility discussion getting in the way of actual discourse on the merits, so posts that have no merit will be removed. (For example, the post about Hannah was removed to the forbidden zone very quickly, contrary to prevailing belief.)

All this is to say that, with open discourse as the guiding principle of the forums, I don't think we can do much to implement an official "niceness" policy. Think about it. How would it look? Who would enforce it? How would moderators embroiled in a discussion ensure that both sides were treated fairly? It's far better to allow everyone to say what they want to say how they want to say it. But even though we as moderators can't do all that much to police for tone, and even though I think we're getting progressively better at treating each other well, I don't think it's controversial for me to say that most of us would like to see an even greater shift toward polite discourse.

Here's what I see as the main problem: the temptation is strong to see this policy as justifying incivility instead of simply failing to forbid it. And our anti-tone-policing rule can make it seem like the only possible response to antagonistic language is a retaliation in kind.

As I've said, I don't think we can do anything about this as moderators without diving headlong into even more problematic rabbit holes, but I'd like to see people listen to their better angels and think about whether antagonism is truly necessary, and once antagonized, whether retaliation is the right way to respond. Speaking purely as a reader of the forums, I find that antagonism and retaliation don't win arguments, and in fact, that I'm much more likely to be dismissive of someone who feels compelled to lash out at every perceived barb instead of taking the high road. If we ban discussion of tone because it's irrelevant to the merits, why would you cloud your own argument with incivility and name calling?

While I don't think that tone-policing dialogue should clutter up forum discussion, I encourage other forum users to contact particularly "vituperative" posters privately to address their concerns. For the most part, we all know each other and we interact in real life. If it is truly the case that the issue of "talking to each other" is so complex that we need to deputize the moderating crew into the tone police to tackle it, I feel very sorry for us. If you have an issue with how someone is discussing quizbowl, you should have the backbone to reach out and say "the way you're discussing quizbowl is counterproductive" privately. And if you're the target of such criticism, you should have the metacognitive ability to respond in a meaningful and hopefully productive way.

This in no way condones incivility. Incivility makes us look bad and unprofessional to outsiders and would-be forum users, but more importantly, it causes needless personal strife between people who would otherwise be arguing on a purely intellectual level. And perhaps most detrimentally, it undermines the credibility of people who are working for the good of the game. Because it only gets in the way of everything we're trying to accomplish and tends to stem from artificial online tough-guy bravado, I see incivility as the epitome of the internet-only BS that this forum strives to avoid.

I welcome discussion and private feedback on this issue.
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Re: Name calling and incivility

Postby Matt Weiner » Tue Oct 08, 2013 5:52 pm

Well, I repeat my question as to who exactly engages in "name-calling."

Note: I edited this post because I misread the OP and thought it was in the staff forum. I don't mean to call people out who have extended the olive branch in the public zone.
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Re: Name calling and incivility

Postby ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Oct 08, 2013 6:23 pm

"Civility" and "tone" strike me as misused terms in all of our meta-discussions.

I agree that there exists a false concept of "civility" (most often propounded by exponents of bad quizbowl), which really means unquestioning tolerance of all viewpoints (however harmful or illogical) without argument. Such calls for "civility" are little more than smokescreens. I also acknowledge that it is true that this board allows for greater freedom of expression than most, and that an atmosphere "civility" is often maintained in other places on the internet through the suppression of dissent. However, none of these premises preclude the possibility that there is a real-life concept of civility that has value and that our forums sometimes lack, and which does not automatically require quashing lively debate.

To be clear, I do not object to sarcastic or strong rhetoric addressed to the content of other people's arguments, but I do object to the personal attacks that happen on these boards. Contrary to popular belief, personal attacks are not a matter of "tone"; they are a matter of the substantive content of a post. Here are common argumentation tropes that contribute to a negative environment on these boards. I believe they are problematic not on the level of tone, but on the level of substance:

1. I Know Why You're Making This Argument / What This Argument Really Means: Speculations about the motives behind arguments are incredibly destructive. First of all, they distract from the actual argument. Addressing some purported subtext of what the argument "really means" is a way of dodging the claim being made. Also, a lot of these analyses of hidden motivations are baseless. To all of you people who say: "I'm a intelligent adult. I know what people really mean when they say something": no, you don't. This is delusional arrogance. I don't know what crackpot psychology studies you've read or what powers of ESP you believe you possess, you do not know what the other poster is thinking. And your speculations about their thoughts takes the conversation out of the realm of quizbowl discussion (what we're here for) and into the realm of pointed personal speculation. Address their actual points: if the argument is bad, then attack it and not the person who made it; if the argument itself isn't bad, then it really doesn't matter what the motive behind it is.
2. Once a Bad Poster, Always a Bad Poster: Not all of us come to these boards holding good opinions, nor do all of us come to these boards in the state of emotional maturity (certainly not just a question of age) needed to support our opinions. Many of us have a phase where we supported ideas about quizbowl that we later abandon. This kind of growth should be encouraged. The content of each post should be evaluated for its own merit, and it should not be assumed that people who have posted badly before must just be re-iterating their previous misdeeds in any fresh post they write. Frankly, I think if the previous point is acknowledged, this point should follow almost automatically, but this attitude seems prevalent enough that I thought it worth mentioning.
3. You Are Part of Group X: I do not deny the existence of institutional problems. Bad ideas or practices can spread within a club and become an entrenched part of that club's sub-culture. However, all posters are individuals. Their flaws should not be reflected back onto their teammates; their teammates flaws should be reflected back onto them. No poster should have his argument tainted by his association with another poster. If someone makes a bad argument that bares an ideological similarity to someone else's bad argument, that similarity can be noted on the level of the argument without resorting to lumping those people together.
4. The Worth of Your Opinion: The worth of people's opinions is not the product of how many tournaments they've written, how long they've been in this community, what their PPG is, etc; the worth of their opinions is a product of the content of the opinion. I do not deny that novices tend to discover anew fallacies that more experienced players/writers/editors have outgrown, and that as a consequence, the more experienced people on these boards often have wiser things to say. Inexperience may be why someone makes a bad argument, but it is not what makes their argument bad. We can address bad arguments according to their premises without resorting to making it about status within the community.

I'm not suggesting that these are things that should be stamped out through the creation of rules against them or through enforcement by the board staff. Rather, I think these are things that we as a community can do better in avoiding. And these are not the sins of first-time posters alone. In fact, I see no correlation between these bad tendencies and the experience of the posters or even the quality of the position they support. People supporting positive ideas nonetheless engage in these negative practices, thus limiting the good effect their ideas can have.

I am fine with these boards being a place of robust criticism. I am find with having my ideas torn apart by people who disagree. The occasionally caustic tone of this forum does not bother me. However when replies on this forum take the form: "Your post is really just about your self-interested support for such-and-such / Back in 20xx, you had bad ideas about how to write questions, and therefore your current ideas must be identical to your old ones and should be rejected out of hand / Your teammates write :capybara: posts, therefore your posts must be equivalent to theirs or amount to crypto-defenses of them / I've edited more tournaments than you have, therefore I am right", then there is a problem.
Last edited by Auks Ran Ova on Wed Oct 09, 2013 3:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: no profanity in non-collegiate sections of the board
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Re: Name calling and incivility

Postby jonah » Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:26 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:Well, I repeat my question as to who exactly engages in "name-calling."
Approximately 28 hours ago, you did, when you called Kay Li a "full-time troll".
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Re: Name calling and incivility

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:36 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:"I've edited more tournaments than you have, therefore I am right"

This is the only part of John's otherwise-excellent post that I have an issue with. While use of this line of attack, on its own, to shut down an argument or silence a discussion is obviously problematic, care should be taken not to confuse it with the many entirely legitimate appeals to experience that come up in discussions here. It's not uncommon for someone new to the "good quizbowl" community to arrive on the boards with poor or half-baked ideas about what quizbowl should be, and there's nothing wrong with a measured response to those posters supporting itself by saying things like "our copious experience has shown your idea to be bad because [x]". I think the board as a whole has gotten much better over the years at not immediately and truculently shouting down a new poster with a chorus of "STFU NOOB" (not that it was ever quite that bad to begin with). Even the line you suggest, John, has its place--not being used in the sense of "I've been around longer and am therefore better than you", of course, but if someone proposes some terrible idea related to directing a tournament, it's entirely fair for a more experienced quizbowler to say "this idea does not work, and I know this because I myself have directed a hundred tournaments". Experienced quizbowlers providing advice to inexperienced quizbowlers is a major source of good in the forum, and it's only fair that they be allowed to refer to their experience in doing so.
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Re: Name calling and incivility

Postby Cheynem » Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:45 pm

Yeah, I agree with Rob in the sense that if you use the experience card to show why things don't work, that's fine. Obviously John is right in just saying "i've done it before" is not enough (equivalent to the idea of "I'm older than you").
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Re: Name calling and incivility

Postby ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:49 pm

Ukonvasara wrote:
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:"I've edited more tournaments than you have, therefore I am right"

This is the only part of John's otherwise-excellent post that I have an issue with. While use of this line of attack, on its own, to shut down an argument or silence a discussion is obviously problematic, care should be taken not to confuse it with the many entirely legitimate appeals to experience that come up in discussions here. It's not uncommon for someone new to the "good quizbowl" community to arrive on the boards with poor or half-baked ideas about what quizbowl should be, and there's nothing wrong with a measured response to those posters supporting itself by saying things like "our copious experience has shown your idea to be bad because [x]". I think the board as a whole has gotten much better over the years at not immediately and truculently shouting down a new poster with a chorus of "STFU NOOB" (not that it was ever quite that bad to begin with). Even the line you suggest, John, has its place--not being used in the sense of "I've been around longer and am therefore better than you", of course, but if someone proposes some terrible idea related to directing a tournament, it's entirely fair for a more experienced quizbowler to say "this idea does not work, and I know this because I myself have directed a hundred tournaments". Experienced quizbowlers providing advice to inexperienced quizbowlers is a major source of good in the forum, and it's only fair that they be allowed to refer to their experience in doing so.


I think we're in complete agreement here, Rob. That is, I regard something like: "From my experiencing editing tournaments, I have learned that what you suggest can cause the following problems: [explanation here]" as an entirely productive line of argument, and one substantively different from my example of "I've edited more tournaments than you have, therefore I am right".
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Re: Name calling and incivility

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:53 pm

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:
Ukonvasara wrote:
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:"I've edited more tournaments than you have, therefore I am right"

This is the only part of John's otherwise-excellent post that I have an issue with. While use of this line of attack, on its own, to shut down an argument or silence a discussion is obviously problematic, care should be taken not to confuse it with the many entirely legitimate appeals to experience that come up in discussions here. It's not uncommon for someone new to the "good quizbowl" community to arrive on the boards with poor or half-baked ideas about what quizbowl should be, and there's nothing wrong with a measured response to those posters supporting itself by saying things like "our copious experience has shown your idea to be bad because [x]". I think the board as a whole has gotten much better over the years at not immediately and truculently shouting down a new poster with a chorus of "STFU NOOB" (not that it was ever quite that bad to begin with). Even the line you suggest, John, has its place--not being used in the sense of "I've been around longer and am therefore better than you", of course, but if someone proposes some terrible idea related to directing a tournament, it's entirely fair for a more experienced quizbowler to say "this idea does not work, and I know this because I myself have directed a hundred tournaments". Experienced quizbowlers providing advice to inexperienced quizbowlers is a major source of good in the forum, and it's only fair that they be allowed to refer to their experience in doing so.


I think we're in complete agreement here, Rob. That is, I regard something like: "From my experiencing editing tournaments, I have learned that what you suggest can cause the following problems: [explanation here]" as an entirely productive line of argument, and one substantively different from my example of "I've edited more tournaments than you have, therefore I am right".

Absolutely; I just wanted to clarify that point for all future readers, in an attempt to stave off accusations involving the former being characterized as the latter.
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